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Utah corrections chief hears inmate family concerns over prison conditions

Posted at 4:45 PM, Sep 13, 2023

SALT LAKE CITY — Assaults, gangs and healthcare were all discussed by the director of Utah’s prison at a town hall earlier this week where families of inmates were the ones who posed the questions.

Brian Redd took over the Utah Department of Corrections in May. The new prison cost a billion dollars and is supposed to be the crown jewel of the prison system, but it’s understaffed.

Redd talked about how he’s trying to address staffing, and the problems that low staffing creates.

“There are there are many dedicates to staff trying to do the right thing, I would acknowledge there may be some that that aren't,"he said. "But we need to lead them along. And we need to teach them the right way to do things.”

On Monday, Redd spoke to the Utah Prisoner Advocate Network which represents inmates and their families.

For years, UPAN has complained about poor healthcare in the state's prisons. Twice in the last two years, auditors have reported problems, including what they called a “culture of noncompliance” among prison healthcare workers.

“Correctional health services is working to improve [inmate care request] response times and wait times for appointments, and we should start seeing improved results. The biggest issue again is staffing,” Redd told the group.

The new Salt Lake City Prison, and the older one in Gunnison, need hundreds of new employees, from guards to nurses to counselors. Some units of the Salt Lake City facility have yet to be opened.

“We don't have enough correctional officers to, you know, safely open those without requiring additional mandatory overtime from our staff, something that we don't want to do," said Redd.

The director also talked about trying to find alternatives to prison stays for non-violent offenders or parolees who commit violations.

One unit the department is thinking of opening by studying the feasibility of a nursery where incarcerated women can care for young children or give birth.

Redd also acknowledged some inmates are staying in prison longer than they might otherwise because they don’t have enough workers to provide substance abuse or sex offender treatment. Without that, the parole board doesn’t want to release inmates.

“I've asked that our team look at how many individuals are in that situation. And we're kind of doing an analysis right now,” he claimed.

Just last month, a gang fight at the Gunnison prison sent five inmates to the hospital. Some inmates join gangs to avoid being assaulted or taken advantage of, but then face repercussions if they quit.

“We can change their safety level and we can kind of try to move them to a different area,” the director said. “We have the tattoo removal program, now we're getting that set up. And I think there's more demand than we can meet right now.”

The Department of Corrections also supervises parolees and probations, with Redd saying he recently accompanied parole agents in the Richfield area.

“Looking into the eyes of these individuals that are on parole, how challenging it can be in the families that are supporting them," he told the group. "And it just, you know, we're all in this together, you know, so let's just keep working together.”

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